It’s up to you to manage your time — some days I’m on my laptop for 12 hours, other days I’ll watch a movie during lunch. There is no boss looking over your shoulder to keep you on track, whatever you need to get done is up to you.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Miraya Berke.
Miraya Berke creates experiences that spark delight. Her events company launched two unique and experiential festivals, Dessert Goals & Rom Com Fest, which she scaled from the ground up and has produced 9 festivals gathering over 30,000 attendees. Now with the pivot to virtual events, she leads Mixily as the Head of Marketing and is focused on creating new tools for event organizers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Santa Cruz, CA and went to school at UC Berkeley. I’ve always loved events and would organize elaborate birthday parties at a young age; a notable one was Who Wants To Be a Ten-ionaire inspired by Who Wants To Be a Millionaire for my 10th birthday. I’ve always loved creating experiences and bringing people together. Both of my parents ran their own businesses so it’s been my constant inspiration to have my own company.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My mom always said “you look best when you’re wearing a smile,” a quote her dad used to tell her. This is definitely something I remember as I have an overall “glass is half full” view about life. Even in stressful times, like planning events, or a global pandemic, remembering to smile and look for the bright side is the best way to stay positive and focused.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I enjoy Guy Raz’s “How I Built This” Podcast and used to listen to it constantly until I realized I was comparing myself to the unicorn success stories almost more than I was feeling inspired. I felt like it was only profiling businesses that are wildly successful who had taken millions of dollars to focus on scaling and on a different playing field than I am now. I’ve switched to listening to more indie maker types of podcasts like “Just Go Grind” with Justin Gordon and “The Sixth Degree” with Emily Merrell. The founders they feature feel more relatable and I actually am learning a lot and not just playing the negative comparison game.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Before the Pandemic my career was in the physical events space, specially festivals. I started my events company when I was 24 working with a range of clients on community events. Then in 2016 I launched Dessert Goals, NYC’s first dessert festival. I grew it from a one day event to 4 days bringing together 5000 people and Chase Sapphire as the presenting sponsor. This year would have been the 10th edition of the festival. From my experience growing Dessert Goals, last year I launched a new festival, Rom Com Fest, the first romantic comedy film festival. The first edition of it was in Los Angeles in 2019 and it received wonderful press and attendance. 2020 was shaping up to be a great year, with two Dessert Goals festivals and one Rom Com Fest on the calendar. Both events are very much about human interaction and eating, so the pandemic hit them both hard and I went from postponing to having to cancel all 2020 dates.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
The first few months of the Pandemic I worked on ways to bring my festivals virtually. I hosted watch parties of romantic comedies, teaming up with IFC Films, Frolic Media and other organizations. I launched the first Digital Dessert Goals and connected the dessert community online for baking demos, panels and a virtual dessert marketplace. I hoped I would be able to plan IRL events but with the uncertainty there just wasn’t an end in sight yet and I needed to pivot. I met Andrew Badr, the founder of Mixily, a new event hosting platform, and loved what he was building. I joined him to help grow Mixily, bringing my experience of planning IRL and URL events to create tools that will help event organizers.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
Over the years of planning events I have used Eventbrite even though it’s clunky and the fees are really high, so when I saw what Andrew had built with Mixily and how smooth it was and beautifully designed, there was definitely an “aha moment” that he was on to something. I wanted to be a part of growing a tool that I would be able to use for my own events and to help fellow event organizers.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Mixily started as an Eventbrite alternative but now as we talk to so many organizers who are struggling to streamline their virtual events, we’re building new tools to create an immersive virtual experience from ticketing to streaming that is housed on your own website. There are many other competitors in this space right now, as virtual events are here to stay, but our background in events (me) and engineering (Andrew), makes what we are building really unique. We have had countless conversations with hosts and are developing tools that will really solve pain points.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My parents, I wouldn’t be where I am without them. They both have their own businesses, so growing up I didn’t even really see a traditional 9–5 job, I thought your work was a big part of your identity. They have inspired me with their career choices, encouraged me with my ideas, and are always there to help whether it’s physically setting up an event or listening to me when I’m stressed.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I’ve been a solo-entrepreneur for years, and now working with a team across the globe is awesome. I’m in California, Andrew is in New York, we have engineers in Italy and Ecuador. We’re all chatting on Slack during the day and have team meetings (early for me and evening in Italy). It’s exciting being a part of a global team. Especially now, when everyone is at home anyways, location really doesn’t matter. When I’m asleep the team is busy coding and it feel like we’re passing the baton sometimes with the time zones. It’s an interesting new way of doing business, where I’ve never even met my team in person but we all feel so close as we’re building something together.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) It’s up to you to manage your time — some days I’m on my laptop for 12 hours, other days I’ll watch a movie during lunch. There is no boss looking over your shoulder to keep you on track, whatever you need to get done is up to you.
2) Find your support community — right when I started my business I joined Dreamers & Doers, which has been an incredible resource of fellow female entrepreneurs. At the beginning of the Pandemic I joined CLEO, the coalition for live event organizers, which has been so helpful to connect with event organizers and share our learnings. Find people going through similar struggles as you.
3) Your work will become your hobby — if you want hobbies outside of work, you have to be very mindful to schedule and plan those in, otherwise work will be the only thing you have to talk about with your friends.
4) You’ll have ups and downs — at an event seeing thousands of happy faces, closing a big sponsor, a rave review — and lows, sponsor says no, taxes and fines, have to skip the weekend to do more work. Even in the course of one day you can be all over the place with good moments and then a bad email and you get in a funk.
5) Don’t get distracted by competitors — there will be competitors or other companies working on similar products, but focus on your mission and remember what you’re working on and why.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Before I go to bed I plug my phone into its charger and pick up a book to read for even just 10 minutes. It’s been helpful not scrolling through the news or Instagram as the last thing I see before going to sleep.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
No more violent movies! I hate seeing blood and guns in movies, and really don’t think it can be healthy for people. I truly believe in the power of rom coms, watching films about human connection and love are more powerful and enriching than watching people turn into zombies.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Priya Parker — I read a lot of business and self improvement books and her The Art of Gathering was the first book I have read in years that felt so relevant to what I do and how I think. There are countless books for scaling a business, building a team, increasing sales, even growing community, but very few about events and meaningful experiences. I’d love the opportunity to chat with Priya about all things events.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!